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Five north country hospitals to receive $22.9 million in fiscal aid

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Five north country hospitals received notification this week that they will collectively receive about $22.9 million to ease financial distress.

Carthage Area Hospital will receive $10.4 million, and there will be available funds of $2.5 million for Gouverneur Hospital, $4.7 million for Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, $4.2 million for Massena Memorial Hospital and $1.1 million for River Hospital, Alexandria Bay, through the Interim Access Assurance Fund.

The $500 million fund awarded $250 million in grants to safety net hospitals as a component of the $8 billion Medicaid 1115 waiver the federal government recently approved for the state. The other half, according to the state Department of Health, is for large public hospitals.

“You can look at this as interim financing,” said Ben Moore III, River Hospital chief executive officer. “Whether we’ll use that amount, we don’t know. For us, what this means is we don’t have to worry about backing off programs. We set our budget on a conservative basis. If we do better on our budget, we won’t need to draw much on that fund.”

Mr. Moore said River Hospital’s original funding request was for $1,131,939, “which was derived from the formula required in the application.” The difference of $49,579, he said, “reflects the amount that the formula said we needed in May of 2014.”

“As the award was not made until July, it looks like that amount was deducted,” he said. “Hospitals had to have an average 15 days or less of cash flow measured on a monthly basis.”

If hospitals need to tap into their allocation, Mr. Moore said, they must prove to the state Department of Health that there’s a need to draw funds.

“We have to show them what’s going on,” he said. “You have to use it for normal operations.”

Part of Massena Memorial Hospital’s normal operations is paying into state pensions for employees of the municipal hospital. Hospital spokeswoman Tina R. Corcoran said that is just one of many reasons the hospital is experiencing a financial crisis. Another big reason, she said, is reduction in various reimbursement rates for services.

“We’ve been losing money this year,” she said. “This is a huge shot in the arm for the hospital.”

Massena Memorial Hospital received its full funding request. Ms. Corcoran said she expects the hospital to receive its first payment of those funds in the fall. The $4.2 million — which happens to be the same amount the hospital expects to pay for pension costs this year — comes on the heels of its move toward privatization.

“As part of the DSRP, you have to work with other hospitals,” she said. “Being a municipal hospital, you can’t do that. This award helps us get back on the road to recovery.”

Calls requesting comments to Carthage Area Hospital, Gouverneur Hospital and Lewis County General Hospital were not returned.

The Interim Access Assurance Fund money does not have to be repaid, Mr. Moore said. If River Hospital has to tap into its allocation, he said, the money may be used for primary care, emergency department and mental health service expenses.

Temporary assurance funding will “enable recipient hospitals to work toward sustainable operations and to maintain critical services to their community as they work with other partner providers to develop integrated performing provider systems eligible for (incentive payment) funding,” according to the state Department of Health.

Mr. Moore said the local performing provider system is composed of about 100 hospitals, agencies and individual providers throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. That group as a whole submitted an application for the delivery system reform incentive payment funding.

The intent of that incentive program, Mr. Moore said, is to “develop collaborations along regional lines.” That is something local hospitals have explored throughout the past two years, first through the North Country Initiative, a six-hospital effort focused on reduction of unnecessary repeat Medicaid admissions and creation of efficiencies in health care delivery.

Collaboration is a common theme woven throughout the North Country Health System Redesign Commission, which was formed by the state Department of Health to create an effective, integrated health care delivery system for preventive, medical, behavioral and long-term care services in north country communities.

Mr. Moore said everyone is working at the local, state and national health care system levels to reduce overall costs and create a more effective approach for patients.

“The potential is huge,” he said, regarding the whole picture.

His biggest fear, he said, is if the Affordable Care Act and associated federal health care dollars are jeopardized, it could stall the local plan for improvement. The overall vision stems from the delivery system reform incentive payment program’s vision of a “medical village,” Mr. Moore said.

“That’s a concept where we’d have space on our campus and people like home care or other agencies that do follow-up, as opposed to referring people off into the region somewhere,” he said. “That way you help facilitate all of the patient’s needs. That’s a new concept; the idea is to maximize effectiveness for patients and minimize the cost of health care due to fragmentation.”

A medical village would expand on the concept of a patient-centered medical home, which exists to centralize primary care and coordinate specialty care services.

“It’s a huge challenge, and it’s going to take a lot of goodwill in the region to get this done,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s a tall order; we’re just getting started. Once you’re formed up, the worst of it is you have to have a whole different set of skills to manage this thing.”

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